_Tacko embraces team before game MA

UCF senior center Tacko Fall (24) embraces the UCF men's basketball team before the start of the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, March 24. The Duke Blue Devils defeated the Knights 77-76 at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina. 

After a 14-year hiatus, the UCF men's basketball team found its way back in March's NCAA Tournament.

The last time the team went to the NCAA Tournament was in 2005. Since then, the players from that team have gone their separate ways, but they still keep an eye out on their alma mater.

With the Knights' recent success – including their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory – some former players have expressed their pride on how far the program has come.

Troy Lindbeck was a guard for the team from 2004-2006 and was a captain in 2006, when he was one of four Knights to play in all 33 games - setting a school single-season record.

Lindbeck, who went to the NCAA Tournament twice during his time at UCF, said the 14-year absence was just the program being unlucky. However, he said the team's breakthrough this year was due to everyone stepping up.

“There have been great players during those 14 years, but we didn’t get lucky," he said. "With head coach Johnny Dawkins, the core players, they really stepped up." 

Kingsley Edwards, who was a shooting guard for the team from 2003-2005, also went to the NCAA Tournament twice during his career. He is one of two players in program history to record a triple-double. After the program's tournament drought, he said he was really thrilled in seeing this year's team growth.

“I was super excited and getting goosebumps watching them. Seeing how hard they worked since," Edwards said. 

One difference the former players noticed this year was the team's defense and chemistry being displayed on and off the court.  

Anthony Williams, a power forward for the 2004-2006 teams, was another player who went to the NCAA Tournament twice. He was one of the other players alongside Lindbeck with a single-season record of 33 games played. He said the Knights played hard and were on a mission during the NCAA Tournament.

“They have very good defense, they have unselfish guys and they play as a team with one goal: to win," Williams said. "They remind me of my old team."

Edwards also said he saw the defensive strengths and tight-knit culture with the team.

“As a defensive guy, I get excited seeing them play good defense,” Edwards said. “I think when you’re a defensive team, it’s more exciting. It brings energy, and they seem like a close-knit group like us.”

Marcus Avant, a forward on the 2003-2005 teams, said he also saw the growth of chemistry in this year’s team, saying that it was a brotherhood on and off the court.

On March 22, UCF made history by beating VCU for the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament win. 

It was a goal that UCF fell short of in its previous four tournament trips. Nonetheless, former players said they couldn’t be more proud seeing history made.

“It’s surreal,” Lindbeck said, “It’s a dream to go to the NCAA not once but twice, that doesn’t happen unless it’s a major program. Seeing UCF beat VCU… I felt proud seeing it.”

Williams said he was also proud seeing the first victory, calling it a “priceless event” and that it “cured a sore spot.”

However, he also said that every team that entered the NCAA Tournament was a winner.

“There really aren’t any losers once you get in. Every team is a winner in the tournament,” Williams said.

Avant was in attendance for UCF's win over VCU. He said the fans were in a frenzy seeing the Knights perform so well on that stage. 

"The energy of the fans who traveled to support UCF was incredible," Avant said. "The atmosphere was great and when we got the win, everyone went crazy." 

The second-round matchup between UCF and Duke was a game that many UCF fans will remember for a long time, and even though the Knights lost, past players were still proud of the effort in the near-upset.

Lindbeck said that game gave him flashbacks to his time with the Knights, when they were playing a big game against the UConn Huskies. He said seeing his former program in such a big moment in that March 24 game was a proud feeling for him.

“When we were playing UConn, everyone wanted to beat them," Lindbeck said. "Now today, seeing on TV fans chanting, “U-C-F! U-C-F!” against Duke, it gave me chills. It makes you feel grateful to see that and makes me proud being part of the UCF family." 

The other players were also filled with emotions when watching the game against Duke.

“Just watching it, I felt like I was competing," Edwards said. "Aubrey Dawkins kept making big shots and their defense was incredible. I almost dropped a tear after that ball rolled out. We were close."

Anthony Williams said he was pumped for the game that he even brought out his old No. 33 jersey. 

Avant said although UCF played great, he noticed a few questionable calls as well as the impact of Duke phenom Zion Williamson. 

“I was going crazy. For me personally, a lot of questionable calls, but we played great and had the opportunities to win,” Avant said.

He also looked at Zion Williamson and noticed he wasn’t dominating like he usually does.

"This is one game he will remember for a long time because he didn’t do his usual thing," Avant said.

The past of UCF basketball has high expectations for the future of the program.

“I think we might make it to the Sweet 16," Williams said. "Coach Dawkins is really putting them in the right direction."

Lindbeck also said the foundation laid by Johnny Dawkins has UCF going in the right direction. 

“The foundation of coach Dawkins, along with the gang going toe-to-toe with Duke, has already opened the eyes of the country and the exposure can also continue to attract more top talent,” Lindbeck said. 

Edwards also said he wants to see more from the Knights. 

“I’m expecting big and better. I want them to go back to the tournament,” Edwards said. “I think people will look at UCF because of the exposure, as well as the great coach we have in coach Dawkins.”

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